Who tells you how to teach?

This post was inspired by this passage from Teachers Should be Seen and not Heard by Anthony Mullen in EdWeek, Jan. 7, 2010.


“What do you think?” the senator asked….

…”I’m thinking about the current health care debate, “I said. “And I am wondering if I will be asked to sit on a national committee charged with the task of creating a core curriculum of medical procedures to be used in hospital emergency rooms.”

The strange little man cocks his head and, suddenly, the fly on the wall has everyone’s attention.

“I realize that most people would think I am unqualified to sit on such a committee because I am not a doctor, I have never worked in an emergency room, and I have never treated a single patient. So what? Today I have listened to people who are not teachers, have never worked in a classroom, and have never taught a single student tell me how to teach.”

In Quebec it is the provincial government’s Ministry of Education, Leisure, and Sports (MELS) who tells us how to teach, via the consultants who work for the Quebec English Schools Network (LEARN) via the consultants who work for our school boards, via our principals, via our department heads. At least that is how it is supposed to go, in the government’s perfect world, I guess.

I, more often than not, go straight to the source. I read my curriculum, The Quebec Education Program (QEP aka ‘The Brick’), which offers philosophy, nothing tangible, then I create the tangible – the daily activities, from data-collection to project to evaluation and back again. Sometimes I do so on my own, sometimes with other teachers. I definitely spend a lot of time doing my own research into how/what/why to teach the students in my care. Some of what I use has been provided by other teachers who do the same. Some of it I found on my own, rarely via consultants though it does happen at times. Whatever it is I do my first and foremost truth is to my students, then I am true to the curriculum.

There are consultants available to me. Why don’t I use them? I consulted for a year. I had to get back into the classroom, as I often say, because I missed the daily energy of contact with students. But there was more to my decision to leave consulting than that. I felt that I was losing my credibility as a teacher. Who was I to consult with teachers on how to deal with the kids in their classrooms when I was no longer in the classroom? The nature of the students I teach changes every year. The further I was away from the classroom the less right I felt about consulting on the subject.

Does this mean there is no room for the consultant? No. But we need to look at how consulting happens. Too often consultants have never been teachers. They have never had to negotiate the many layers of teaching in a classroom – from pedagogy, to behaviour, to technology, to management, to learning disabilities, to multiple subject matters, to headaches, sore stomachs, teen girls at their time of the month, the farts, the dress code, the Internet not working, the why do I have to sit there?s, the exam stress, the I don’t know how to read but I think no one knows so I will continue to be a pain in the ass so no one ever finds outs. I’ll stop there.

What if teachers consulted with each other? If part of our workload was about learning and sharing about something specific, either in content or in process – say history or using laptops in the classroom? Something that relates to what we mainly teach. How much more satisfying and meaningful would my job be if I could teach a bit less and have time to research and share with my colleagues?

How do you think that would work? I’d be interested in seeing what different people think about this, from consultants to administrators to teachers. If you are a consultant does it make you angry to read what I wrote? If you are a teacher would you want to be scheduled to research and share? If you are an administrator do you trust your teachers to research and share? Is anyone already doing all of that?

12 comments / Add your comment below

    1. If that’s the case, what role do consultants play for you? Are they often dismissed because of the lack of ongoing experience? If that’s the case – why are they still around?

  1. Thanks for this post. I had similar reactions when I read the Edweek story earlier this week. We have limited consultants in our school; one part time “coach” who many teachers resent. I have always thought that it would be very powerful to teach “mostly” full time ( maybe out of the classroom once a week or half a day?) and somehow be able to combine research with my teaching. Wouldn’t there be a most valuable result if we were able to practice, research, reflect and consult with our fellow teachers? I am interested to hear what others think of your ideas too! Thank you.
    .-= Joan Young´s last blog ..Pass the Microphone Please.. =-.

    1. Hi Joan, why do you think most teachers resent the part-time coach? Is it because he/she is part-time so they don’t have the same duties and responsibilities?

    1. Amen, Marcy! I must admit that our school is moving towards that, we have fewer administrivial staff meetings this year than we did last year and the year before.

  2. Hi, Tracy,
    I’m a Literacy Coach, but I guess in this context I would be considered a consultant. This is my 8th year in this position, and prior to that I held many different positions which enables me to effectively work with a variety of teachers. I wish I had more time to spend with teachers, but it is hard with 3 buildings and other district responsibilities. The type of collegial cooperation and consultation you call for in this post is very important, and there is quite a bit of research to support its value. Unfortunately, with all of the demands place on teachers, it is harder and harder to find time to do it.
    .-= Linda704´s last blog ..Weekly Web Wanderings (weekly) =-.

    1. “Unfortunately, with all of the demands place on teachers, it is harder and harder to find time to do it.” We can’t find it, it must be explicitly made available.

      It must be scheduled in to our work day. I teach pretty solidly from 7:45am to 2:30 or 4, depending on the day of the week. Monday mornings, however, our students do not come in until 11am, and we don’t start to teach until noon. We use that time to plan and talk about how and what and who we are teaching. We have still to make that shift from planning on our own to learning from each other in terms of curriculum, however we learn from each other all the time in terms of making ethical decisions about kids.

  3. Tracy,
    Interesting post. I’ve too have stayed in the classroom for all these years because I love the interaction with my students. I have found on more than one occasion that I am more successful learning things I need to know or do to be the best teacher possible by consulting the other teachers in my department. I have been disappointed in some of the unrealistic advice I have gotten from consultants in the past. I wanted to ask them to come to my classroom and show me how to implement their advice and then stick around and watch what happens.
    .-= Elona´s last blog ..Happiness spreads like a virus =-.

    1. You got it on the nose, Elona. I have found, far too often, that a consultant can be great at what they are consulting on however their particular facet of education does not exist in a vacuum. Only the teacher knows the intricacies, the ‘chaos’ of learning, and that each intervention we do has an effect on and is affected by every other aspect of our classrooms.

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